Megaphone: Why I set up a scheme for children’s writers of colour

by Leila Rasheed

Are you an aspiring children’s or young adult fiction writer? Could a year focused on completing a novel, with 1-1 mentoring, workshops and connections to agents and publishers, transform your writing life? If you think so, The Megaphone Writer Development scheme could be for you.

I launched the scheme in 2016 because, as a lifelong reader and writer of children’s literature, I was tired of seeing so little of the diverse world around me represented in children’s books and of meeting so few other children’s authors of colour. According to recent Book Trust research by Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, in 2008, I had been one of merely four (4!) British writers of colour whose debut children’s book was published in the UK. By 2016 very little had changed: numbers were mostly in the single digits. Children’s literature didn’t reflect the world British children were growing up in. That was why I thought Megaphone was needed.

Megaphone supports writers of colour as they write their novel in a year, to give them the knowledge and help them develop the skills they need to not only get published but to survive as a published author, and to place them and their novel in front of an audience of agents and editors who can start them off on exciting careers as children’s authors. 

The scheme is now in its third round. Past mentees include prize-winning authors Danielle Jawando and Maisie Chan, and most recently, Joyce Efia Harmer. Three of our 2020-21 mentees have announced agent or publishing deals, including Nazima Pathan, whose novel Dream Hunters will be out with Simon and Schuster next year. Nazima said: “Leila and Stephanie have transformed my confidence, my writing and my ability to tell a story… I wouldn’t be where I am without this scheme.”

This year our team of mentors is larger than ever and includes acclaimed authors Polly Ho-Yen, Rachel Faturoti and Michael Mann. There is a  fee of £300 for the mentoring, but we have funding for 2 free places and discounted places thanks to funding from Arts Council England.

Even if you are not sure you are ready to write a novel in a year, there’s nothing to lose by applying because the first 60 applicants who submit an eligible application will be given access to Megaphone Community. Curated by Stephanie King, a highly experienced commissioning editor, this includes membership of a closed, moderated forum with other writers,  writing masterclasses by outstanding authors, and Q&As with publishing professionals from major publishing houses and agencies. 

Since 2016, thanks to the noise made by children’s writers of colour themselves and by schemes like Megaphone, the attention of the publishing industry has been captured. There is a real hunger to publish more diverse voices. Yet Megaphone still matters because the playing field isn’t equal for all writers. A person of colour is far less likely to have their books edited or marketed by someone who shares their experiences and so writers need to be well-prepared to know their priorities and advocate for their writing.

There are lots of resources for applicants on our website, including tips from our judges on what they love in stories, and a mini-video with former mentees on how to get the best out of the year. We’re excited to read your applications – your book could be the one that changes a child’s life!

Megaphone Writer Development Scheme is open for applications until 31st August. See the website for more details.

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